BBC to broadcast Cage's sound of silence in Radio 3 first
LONDON – The BBC is to broadcast four minutes and 33 seconds of silence as the BBC Symphony Orchestra gives the first performance in the UK of John Cage's silent work '4'33"'.
BBC Radio 3 is to broadcast a live performance of the Cage piece, making it the first broadcaster to risk airing nearly five minutes of what is described as ambient silence. The broadcast will be repeated on television an hour later on BBC digital arts channel BBC Four.
Cage's work is performed by someone sitting at a piano although, because it involves no playing, the pianist simply sits at the keyboard for four minutes 33 seconds.
In order for the broadcast to go ahead unhindered, the BBC has had to switch off Radio 3's emergency backup systems, which are designed to cut in when there is apparent silence on air.
The idea behind the piece, conceived of in the 1950s, was to demonstrate Cage's view that all sound is music and that "wherever we are what we hear mostly is noise". At the time Cage wrote: "When we ignore noise, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating."
The performance of '4'33"' is just one of the events in the BBC's forthcoming John Cage Uncaged at the Barbican from Friday January 16 to Sunday January 18, a weekend of concerts, talks, films and events to celebrate the life, influences and legacy of a maverick musician, writer, artist who died in 1992.
There will also be a panel discussion examining Cage's legacy and films including Elliot Caplan's portrait of Cage and his relationship with his life-long companion Merce Cunningham, and Peter Greenaway's insightful hour-long film.
Much of the weekend is broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and there is a host of features, interval talks and discussions to complement the music.
The composition '4'33"' was the subject of a legal battle two years ago when musician Mike Batt, who had a number of hits in the 70s with UK children's characters The Wombles, was accused of plagiarism by Cage's publishers.
Batt had to pay a six-figure sum to settle a bizarre dispute over who owns the copyright to a silent musical work after the former Wombles man placed a silent track on his album, 'Classical Graffiti'.
At one stage before conceding, Batt attempted to prove his silent track was different from Cage's by staging a performance of the piece.
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